Labor National Secretary Noah Carroll has resigned and the party’s national executive has set up a review to examine its election campaign performance and the reasons for the unexpected loss.
The post mortem will be jointly headed by former South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill and former federal minister Craig Emerson.
Other members of the committee are Linda White, an official of the Australian Services Union; Queensland Senator Anthony Chisholm, a former state secretary; John Graham, a member of the NSW upper house and a former state assistant general secretary, and Lenda Oshalem, formerly an official in the Western Australian branch of the party.
The review will be wide-ranging but done quickly, reporting in October.
It will look at Labor’s campaign strategy and organisation, including digital campaigning, engagement with unions and third-party campaigns, fund-raising, policy, preference negotiations and strategy, polling, candidate selection, target seat campaigning, media strategy, gender diversity in the campaign, and the methods used by opponents that were particularly effective against the party.
After the party’s shock loss in May, stories emerged of tensions in the campaign, with a good deal of blame shifting over the result. Carroll, who is from the right and as Victorian secretary had run the successful 2014 state campaign, had both detractors and supporters.
One issue of controversy revolved around party research. John Utting, who had a long record running polling for the party, was replaced by YouGov Galaxy for quantitative polling. Utting did just the qualitative (focus group) research.
Assistant secretary Paul Erickson will become acting national secretary until a replacement for Carroll is decided.
The Friday executive meeting had been due to consider the expulsion of construction union official John Setka, but he has been given until July 15 to prepare his defence. Meanwhile, he has launched legal action to try to stymie his expulsion.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said Setka would not succeed in heading off his ousting.
Albanese began his move against Setka on the ground he had denigrated anti-domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty at a private union meeting – a claim that is contested. But Albanese has also said Setka should be thrown out of the party because of his general behaviour. He recently pleaded guilty to harassing his wife with a plethora of offensive text messages.
Albanese said on Friday he was not surprised Setka had started legal proceedings.
It always going to be the case given Mr Setka’s background in litigation. But the fact is that the Australian Labor Party has the right to determine who we want to be members, just like any organisation.
If a footy player, rugby league or AFL, had pleaded guilty essentially to two issues relating to harassment of a woman they’d be sacked by their club. We’ll sack John Setka and we’ll do it on July 15.
Australian elections have been won in outer metropolitan and regional electorates, but Labor did badly in swing terms in those types of seats at the May 18 election. In inner metropolitan areas, where Labor had swings in its favour, most seats are safe for one side or the other.
You can see this particularly in Queensland. The provincial seat of Capricornia blew out from a 0.6% LNP margin to 12.4%, the outer metropolitan seat of Forde from 0.6% to 8.6% and the rural seat of Flynn from 1.0% to 8.7%.
In NSW, the rural seat of Page went from a 2.3% to a 9.5% Nationals margin, and the provincial seat of Robertson from a 1.1% to 4.2% Liberal margin. Even in Victoria, the only state to swing to Labor in two party terms, the outer metropolitan seat of La Trobe, went from a 3.5% to a 4.5% Liberal margin.
Ignoring seats with strong independent challengers like Warringah and Wentworth, the biggest swings to Labor occurred in seats already held by Labor, or safe conservative seats. There was a 6.4% swing to Labor in Julie Bishop’s old seat of Curtin, but the Liberals still hold it by a 14.3% margin. The Liberals hold Higgins by a 3.9% margin despite a 6.1% swing to Labor.
After the election, the Coalition holds 77 of the 151 seats and Labor 68. Assuming there is no net change in the six crossbenchers, Labor will require a swing of 0.6% to gain the two seats needed to deprive the Coalition of a majority (Bass and Chisholm). To win more seats than the Coalition, Labor needs to gain five seats, a 3.1% swing. To win a majority (76 seats), Labor needs to gain eight seats, a 3.9% swing.
As Labor won 48.5% of the two-party vote at the election, it needs 49.1% to deprive the Coalition of a majority, 51.6% to win more seats than the Coalition, and 52.4% for a Labor majority. Mayo and Warringah were not counted in swings required as they are held by crossbenchers. Warringah is likely to be better for the Liberals in 2022 without Tony Abbott running.
It will be a bit harder for Labor than the 0.6% swing notionally needed to cost the Coalition a majority, as the Liberals now have a sitting member in Chisholm and defeated a Labor member in Bass. The Liberals will thus gain from personal vote effects in both seats.
There will be redistributions before the next election, which are likely to affect margins. But unless Labor improves markedly with the lower-educated, they risk losing the seat count while winning the popular vote at the next election.
Had the polls for this election been about right and Labor had won by 51.0-49.0 (2.5% better than their actual vote), they would have added just three seats – Bass, Chisholm and Boothby – and the Coalition would have had a 74-71 seat lead.
The Electoral Commission will eventually release details of how every minor party’s preferences flowed between Labor and the Coalition nationally and for each state, but this data is not available yet. However, we can make some deductions.
Nationally, Labor won 60.0% of all minor party preferences, down from 64.2% in 2016. This partly reflects the Greens share of all others falling from 44.0% in 2016 to 41.2%, but it also reflects more right-wing preference sources like One Nation and the United Australia Party (UAP). Had preferences from all parties flowed as they did in 2016, Labor would have won 49.2% of the two party vote, 0.7% higher than their actual vote.
In Queensland, Labor’s preference share dropped dramatically from 57.9% in 2016 to just 50.2%, even though the Greens share of all others rose slightly to 34.8% from 34.1% in 2016. Of the 29.6% who voted for a minor party in Queensland, the Greens won 10.3%, One Nation 8.9%, the UAP 3.5%, Katter’s Australian Party 2.5% and Fraser Anning’s party 1.8%. The flow of these right-wing preferences to the LNP almost compensated for Greens preferences to Labor.
Parties like One Nation and the UAP would have attracted most of their support from lower-educated voters who despised Labor and Bill Shorten. As I wrote in my previous article, there was a swing to the Coalition with lower-educated voters.
Final Senate results: Coalition has strong position
In the Senate that sits from July 1, the Coalition will hold 35 of the 76 senators, Labor 26, the Greens nine, One Nation two, Centre Alliance two, and one each for Cory Bernardi and Jacqui Lambie. The final Senate results were the same as in my June 3 preview of the likely Senate outcome.
The table below gives the senators elected for each state at this half-Senate election. A total of 40 of the 76 senators were up for election. The one “Other” senator is Jacqui Lambie in Tasmania. The table has been augmented with a percentage of seats won and a percentage of national Senate votes won at the election.
There was a small swing in late counting against the Coalition. When I wrote my previous Senate article, they had 38.3% of the national Senate vote (up 3.1%). They ended with 38.0% (up 2.8%).
The Senate results are not very proportional, but this is mostly a consequence of electing six senators per state. If all 40 senators were elected nationally, the outcome would be far more proportional to vote share.
The Coalition and Greens benefitted from having large fractions of quotas on primary votes, which Labor and One Nation did not have in most states. Lambie was the only “Other” to poll a large fraction of a quota, and so she is the only Other to win.
Changes in Senate seats since the pre-election parliament were Coalition up four, Lambie up one, Labor, Greens and One Nation steady, and the Liberal Democrats, Brian Burston, Derryn Hinch, Tim Storer and Fraser Anning all lost their seats.
Ignoring Bernardi’s defection from the Coalition, changes since the 2016 double-dissolution election were Coalition up six, Labor and Greens steady, One Nation down two, and Family First, Liberal Democrats, Hinch and Centre Alliance all down one.
Senate preference flows for each state
In the Senate, voters are asked to number six boxes above the line or 12 below, though only one above or six below is required for a formal vote. All preferences are now voter-directed.
With six senators to be elected in each state, a quota was one-seventh of the vote, or 14.3%. In no state was there a narrow margin between the sixth elected senator and the next closest candidate. Preference information is sourced from The Poll Bludger for Queensland, Victoria, WA and SA here, for NSW here and for Tasmania here.
In NSW, the Coalition had 2.69 quotas on primary votes, Labor 2.08, the Greens 0.61 and One Nation 0.34. Jim Molan won 2.9% or 0.20 quotas from fourth on the Coalition ticket on below the line votes, but was excluded a long way from the end. The Greens and third Coalition candidate each got almost a quota with One Nation trailing well behind.
In Victoria, the Coalition had 2.51 quotas, Labor 2.17, the Greens 0.74 and One Nation and Hinch both 0.19. Hinch finished seventh ahead of One Nation, but was unable to close on the Coalition, with the third Coalition candidate elected just short of a quota. The Greens crossed quota earlier on Labor preferences.
In Queensland, the LNP had 2.72 quotas, Labor 1.57, One Nation 0.71 and the Greens 0.69. One Nation and the LNP’s third candidate, in that order, crossed quota, and the Greens extended their lead over Labor’s second candidate from 1.8% to 2.7% after preferences.
In WA, the Liberals had 2.86 quotas, Labor 1.93, the Greens 0.82 and One Nation 0.41. The third Liberal, second Labor and Greens passed quota in that order with One Nation well behind. The Liberals beat Labor to quota on Nationals and Shooters preferences.
In SA, the Liberals had 2.64 quotas, Labor 2.12, the Greens 0.76 and One Nation 0.34. The Greens and third Liberal, in that order, reached quota well ahead of One Nation.
In Tasmania, the Liberals had 2.20 quotas, Labor 2.14, the Greens 0.87, Lambie 0.62 and One Nation 0.24. Lisa Singh, who won from sixth on Labor’s ticket on below the line votes in 2016, had 5.7% or 0.40 quotas this time in below the line votes. On her exclusion, Labor’s second candidate and Lambie were elected with quotas, well ahead of One Nation; the Greens had crossed quota earlier.
Analyst Kevin Bonham has a detailed review of the Senate system’s performance at this election, after it was introduced before the 2016 election. One thing that should be improved is the issue of preferences for “empty box” groups above the line. Such boxes without a name beside them confused voters, and these groups received far fewer preferences than they would have done with a name.
UK Conservative leadership: Johnson vs Hunt
On June 20, UK Conservative MPs finished winnowing the field of ten leadership candidates down to two. In the final round, Boris Johnson won 160 of the 313 Conservative MPs, Jeremy Hunt 77 and Michael Gove was eliminated with 75 votes.
Johnson and Hunt will now go to the full Conservative membership in a postal ballot expected to conclude by mid-July. Johnson is the heavy favourite to win, and become the next British PM. I will have a fuller report for The Poll Bludger by tomorrow.
At the May 18 election, the size of the lower house was expanded from 150 to 151 seats. The Coalition parties won 77 seats (up one since the 2016 election), Labor 68 (down one) and the crossbench six (up one). The Coalition government holds a three-seat majority.
Owing to redistributions and the loss of Wentworth to independent Kerryn Phelps at an October 2018 byelection, the Coalition notionally had 73 seats before the election, a one-seat advantage over Labor. Using this measure, the Coalition gained a net four seats in the election.
The Coalition gained the Queensland seats of Herbert and Longman, the Tasmanian seats of Braddon and Bass, and the New South Wales seat of Lindsay. Labor’s only offsetting gain was the NSW seat of Gilmore. Corangamite and Dunkley are not counted as Labor gains as they were redistributed into notional Labor seats.
Four of the six pre-election crossbenchers easily held their seats – Adam Bandt (Melbourne), Andrew Wilkie (Clark), Rebekha Sharkie (Mayo) and Bob Katter (Kennedy). The Liberals narrowly regained Wentworth from Phelps, but independent Zali Steggall thrashed Tony Abbott 57%-43% in Warringah. In Indi, independent Helen Haines succeeded retiring independent Cathy McGowan, defeating the Liberals by 51.4%-48.6%.
The Coalition easily defeated independent challengers in Cowper and Farrer.
While Bandt was re-elected, the Greens went backwards in their other inner-Melbourne target seats of Wills and Cooper. Only in Kooyong did the Greens manage to beat Labor into second.
The final primary votes were 41.4% Coalition (down 0.6%), 33.3% Labor (down 1.4%), 10.4% Greens (up 0.2%), 3.4% United Australia Party (UAP) and 3.1% One Nation (up 1.8%).
The final two-party vote was 51.5% for the Coalition to 48.5% for Labor, a 1.2% swing in the Coalition’s favour from the 2016 election. It is the first pro-government swing since the 2004 election.
It was expected the Coalition would do better once the 15 “non-classic” seats were included; these are seats where the final two candidates were not Coalition and Labor. However, 11 of these seats swung to Labor, including a 9.0% swing in Warringah and a 7.9% swing in Wentworth. Eight non-classics were inner-city electorates that tended to swing to Labor.
The table below shows the number of seats in each state and territory, the Coalition’s number of seats, the Coalition’s percentage of seats, the gains for the Coalition compared to the redistribution, the Coalition’s two-party vote, the swing to the Coalition in two-party terms, and the number of Labor seats.
Four of the six states recorded swings to the Coalition in the range from 0.9% to 1.6%. Victoria was the only state that swung to Labor, by 1.3%. Queensland had a 4.3% swing to the Coalition, far larger than any other state. Labor did well to win a majority of NSW seats despite losing the two-party vote convincingly.
Official turnout in the election was 91.9%, up 0.9% from 2016. Analyst Ben Raue says 96.8% of eligible voters were enrolled, the highest ever. That means effective turnout was 89.0% of the population, up 2.6%.
Education divide explains Coalition’s win
Not only did Steggall thump Abbott in Warringah, the electorate’s 9.0% swing to Labor on a two-party basis was the largest swing to Labor in the country. Abbott’s two-party vote percentage of 52.1% was by far the lowest for a conservative candidate against Labor since Warringah’s creation in 1922; the next lowest was 59.5% in 2007.
While Abbott did badly, other divisive Coalition MPs performed well. Barnaby Joyce won 54.8% of the primary vote in New England and gained a 1.2% two-party swing against Labor. Peter Dutton had a 3.0% two-party swing to him in Dickson, and George Christensen had a massive 11.2% two-party swing to him in Dawson, the second-largest for the Coalition nationally.
According to the 2016 census, 42% of those aged 16 and over in Warringah had at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 22% in Australia overall. Just 13.5% had at least a bachelor’s degree in New England, 19% in Dickson and 12% in Dawson.
In Victoria, which swung to Labor, 24.3% of the population had at least a bachelor’s degree in 2016, the highest of any state in the nation.
The Grattan Institute has charted swings to Labor and the Coalition, taking into account wealth and tertiary education. Only polling booths in the top-income quintile swung to Labor; the other four income quintiles swung to the Coalition.
Areas with low levels of tertiary education swung strongly to the Coalition in NSW and Queensland, but less so in Victoria. There were solid swings to Labor in areas with high levels of tertiary education.
Some of the swings are explained by contrary swings in 2016, when the Coalition under Malcolm Turnbull performed relatively worse in lower-educated areas and better in higher-educated areas. However, Queensland’s 58.4% two-party vote for the Coalition was 1.4% better than at the 2013 election, even though the national result is 2.0% worse. The large swings to the Coalition in regional Queensland are probably partly due to the Adani coal mine issue.
Morrison’s appeal to lower-educated voters
Since becoming prime minister, Scott Morrison’s Newspoll ratings have been roughly neutral, with about as many people saying they are satisfied with him as those dissatisfied. After Morrison became leader, I suggested on my personal website that the Coalition would struggle with educated voters, and this occurred in the election. However, Morrison’s appeal to those with a lower level of education more than compensated.
In my opinion, the most important reason for the Coalition’s upset victory was that Morrison was both liked and trusted by lower-educated voters, while they neither liked nor trusted Labor leader Bill Shorten.
Earlier this month, The Guardian published a long report on the social media “death tax” scare campaign. While this and other Coalition scare campaigns may have had an impact on the result, they did so by playing into lower-educated voters’ distrust of Shorten. Had these voters trusted Shorten, such scare campaigns would have had less influence.
Labor also ran scare campaign ads attacking Morrison for deals with Clive Palmer and Pauline Hanson. But I believe these ads failed to resonate because lower-educated voters liked Morrison better.
I think Morrison won support from the lower-educated because they are sceptical of “inner-city elites”. The Coalition leader emphasised his non-elite attributes during the campaign, such as by playing sport and going to church. Turnbull was perceived as a member of the elite, which could explain swings to Labor in lower-educated areas in 2016.
Parallels can be drawn to the 2017 election in the UK. Labour performed far better than expected in the election, reducing the Conservatives to a minority government when they were expected to win easily. Labour had adopted a pro-Brexit position, which may have sent a message to lower-educated voters that they could support the party.
This offers an option for Australian Labor to try to win back support from lower-educated voters: adopt a hardline immigration policy. Votes that Labor would lose to the Greens by doing this would likely be returned as preferences.
See also my similar article on how Donald Trump won the US 2016 presidential election.
The problem with the polls
The table below shows all national polls released in the final week compared to the election result. A poll estimate within 1% of the actual result is in bold.
The polls did well on the One Nation and UAP votes, and were a little low on the Greens. The major source of error was that Labor’s vote was overstated and the Coalition’s was understated. Only Ipsos had Labor’s vote right, but it overstated the Greens vote by about three points – a common occurrence for Ipsos.
No poll since July 2018 had given the Coalition a primary vote of at least 40%. In the election, the Coalition parties received 41.4% of the vote.
Seat polls during the campaign were almost all from YouGov Galaxy, which conducts Newspoll. The Poll Bludger says these polls were, like the national polls, biased against the Coalition.
Analyst Peter Brent has calculated the two-party vote for all election-day and early votes. The gap between election day and early votes increased to 5.0% in 2019 from 4.6% in 2016. This does not imply that polls missed because of a dramatic late swing to the Coalition in the final days; it is much more likely the polls have been wrong for a long time.
Boris Johnson very likely to be Britain’s next PM, and left wins Danish election
I wrote for The Poll Bludger on June 14 that, after winning the support of 114 of the 313 Conservative MPs in the first round of voting, Boris Johnson is virtually assured of becoming the next British PM. Polls suggest he will boost the Conservative vote.
I also wrote on my personal website on June 6 about the left’s win in the Danish election. Also covered: a new Israeli election, the German Greens’ surge, and the left gaining a seat in the May 4 Tasmanian upper house periodical elections.
The Coalition is likely to win 19 of the 40 Senate seats up for grabs at the 2019 election. As they hold 16 of the 36 that are not up for election, they will probably have 35 of the 76 total seats (up four since the pre-election Senate). The new Senate sits from July 1.
Labor is likely to have 26 total seats (no net change), the Greens nine (steady), One Nation two (steady), the Centre Alliance two (steady). Cory Bernardi was not up for election, and Jacqui Lambie regained her Tasmanian seat following her disqualification on Section 44 grounds. While One Nation lost a WA seat, they probably regain Malcolm Roberts after his disqualification.
The likely losers were Fraser Anning, Derryn Hinch, the Liberal Democrats, Brian Burston (who had shifted from One Nation to United Australia Party), and Tim Storer, who did not contest his SA seat.
The Coalition plus One Nation and Bernardi is 38 seats for the right. To pass legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens, the Coalition’s best path will be these 38 votes, plus either Lambie or the Centre Alliance.
With six senators to be elected in each state, a quota is one-seventh of the vote, or 14.3%. With two to be elected in each territory, a quota is one-third of the vote, or 33.3%. Voters are instructed to number at least six boxes above the line, or at least 12 below, though only one above or six below is required for a formal vote. All preferences are voter-directed.
The Senate count is now at 84% of enrolled voters, while the House count is at 91%. The last few percent in the house count have been good for the Greens and bad for the Coalition, but this is unlikely to make a difference to the Senate seat outcomes. Senate results will be finalised by a computer preference distribution, probably by late next week.
Here is the table of likely Senate results for each state and territory. The Coalition was defending just two seats in each state except SA, where it was defending three seats.
In NSW, the Coalition has 2.70 quotas, Labor 2.10, the Greens 0.60 and One Nation 0.34. Labor preferences should assist the Greens, with One Nation too far behind to catch either the Greens or Coalition. Both Labor and the Coalition gain at the expense of the Liberal Democrats and Burston.
In Victoria, the Coalition has 2.54 quotas, Labor 2.19, the Greens 0.73 and One Nation and Hinch Justice both on 0.19. The Coalition appears too far ahead of everyone else to be caught. The Coalition is likely to gain at the expense of Hinch.
In Queensland, the LNP has 2.75 quotas, Labor 1.59, One Nation (Roberts) 0.71 and the Greens 0.68. Whoever finishes last out of the final four after preferences misses out, and that is likely to be Labor. The LNP and One Nation are likely to gain at the expense of Labor and Anning.
In WA, the Liberals have 2.90 quotas, Labor 1.93, the Greens 0.82 and One Nation 0.39. The top three are too far ahead. The Liberals gain at the expense of One Nation.
In SA, the Liberals have 2.65 quotas, Labor 2.13, the Greens 0.75 and One Nation 0.33. The Liberals and Greens are too far ahead. Labor gains at the expense of Storer.
In Tasmania, the Liberals have 2.21 quotas, Labor 2.15, the Greens 0.88, Lambie 0.61 and One Nation 0.24. The Greens and Lambie are too far ahead. Lambie gains at Labor’s expense.
In the ACT, Labor has 1.18 quotas, the Liberals 0.97 and the Greens 0.52. The Liberals will win the second seat. There will be no change.
In the NT, Labor has 1.11 quotas and the Country Liberals 1.10. Preferences are not required for either seat. There will be no change.
The reason for the right’s three-seat lead over the left is Queensland, where six of the 12 senators are likely to be LNP, One Nation two, Labor just three and the Greens one. All other states are likely to split evenly between the right and left, except for Tasmania (6-5 to the left plus Lambie). SA is tied 5-5 with two Centre Alliance.
The table below shows the seats up for election at the next half-Senate election, due by early 2022. While state senators have six-year terms, territory senators are tied to the term of the House.
The Coalition will be defending three seats in every state except SA, where they are defending just one seat. A bad Coalition performance would put their third seat in some states at risk. However, if the Coalition does as well as they did in 2019 in the mainland states, and wins a third Tasmanian seat, the Coalition and One Nation combined would have a Senate majority (39 of 76 seats).
The three senators most likely to lose at the next election are Bernardi and the two Centre Alliance senators, all in SA. At this election, Centre Alliance won just 2.6% or 0.18 quotas and Bernardi’s Conservatives had 1.5% or 0.10 quotas.
The Greens will be happy with their defence of the six senators they had up for election. A similar performance in 2022 would give the Greens 12 senators – the most they have had. But Labor needs to improve greatly to give the left a chance to gain the four senators they would need in 2022 to control the Senate.
Coalition’s national Senate vote increased over 3%
Senate vote shares are currently 38.3% Coalition (up 3.1%), 28.9% Labor (down 0.9%), 10.1% Greens (up 1.5%), 5.4% One Nation (up 1.1%), 2.4% UAP, 1.8% Help End Marijuana Prohibition, 1.7% Shooters, 1.2% Animal Justice and 1.1% Liberal Democrats. Vote shares in the House are 41.5% Coalition (down 0.5%), 33.3% Labor (down 1.4%), 10.3% Greens (up 0.1%), 3.4% UAP and 3.1% One Nation (up 1.8%). One Nation contested 59 of the 151 House seats.
One reason for the increase in the Coalition’s Senate vote is a favourable ballot paper draw. In all states and territories, the Coalition was placed to the left of the Liberal Democrats, so they were not hurt by name confusion. In 2016, the Coalition was to the right of the Liberal Democrats in NSW, Queensland and the ACT.
By state, the Coalition’s vote was up 2.8% in NSW, 3.2% in Victoria, 4.2% in Queensland, 1.7% in WA, 5.3% in SA (helped by the collapse of Centre Alliance since 2016) and up 0.2% in Tasmania. The Coalition’s gain in Victoria could be due to a 3.3% drop for Hinch Justice and a 9.7% drop for Senate groups that stood in 2016, but not 2019.
Another explanation for the Coalition’s vote jump in the Senate is that those with a lower level of educational attainment disliked both Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten in 2016, and were thus likely to vote for other right-wing parties. In 2019, these people liked Scott Morrison. There are many parties to choose from in the Senate, so the Coalition’s higher vote should be seen as an endorsement of Morrison.
In the House, the Coalition’s vote is down 0.5% from 2016. Far fewer right-wing parties stood for the House in 2016 than in 2019, so voters’ choices were more limited in 2016. If the same sorts of candidates had stood in the same seats at both elections, the Coalition’s primary vote would probably have increased in the House too.
Turnout for House increases on 2016
Contrary to this article in Nine newspapers that suggested turnout had fallen to its lowest level since compulsory voting was introduced, official turnout for the May 18 election is currently 91.07%, up 0.06% from 2016. There are many votes outstanding, so turnout will increase further.
As the electoral roll is more complete than it has ever been, this increase in turnout is more impressive than it seems.
It is likely that Labor will hold Macquarie, the last seat in any doubt. That will give the Coalition 77 of the 151 seats, Labor 68 and six crossbenchers.
The national two party count is currently at 51.63-48.37 to the Coalition; the Coalition’s peak was 51.77% on May 30. There are 15 “non-classic” seats that are excluded from this count – ten are likely to favour the Coalition and five Labor. The current two party count therefore understates the Coalition.
Conservatives and Labour smashed at UK’s European elections
I wrote for The Poll Bludger that at the UK’s European Union elections held on May 23, the Brexit party won 32% of the vote and 29 of 73 seats, the Liberal Democrats 20% and 16 seats, Labour just 14% and ten seats, the Greens 12% and seven seats, and the Conservatives 9% and four seats.
Theresa May will resign as Conservative leader on June 7, and the next PM is likely to be a hard Brexiteer.
In the European Union overall, the Liberals and the Greens performed well.
The high tide of analysis concerning the Australian Labor Party’s shock 2019 federal election loss has been reached. It looks like so much flotsam and jetsam with the odd big log – leadership popularity, Queensland – prominent among the debris. Sorting through it, making sense of it, and weighting the factors driving the result really matters. It matters because decisions influencing the outcome of the next federal election will flow from it.
The learner’s error is to grasp onto a couple of factors without considering the full suite, weighting them and seeing the connections between them. What does the full suite look like?
Labor’s Bill Shorten was an unpopular leader, neither liked nor trusted by voters. The shift from Shorten in private to Shorten in leadership mode in the media was comparable to the shift in Julia Gillard when she moved from the deputy prime ministership to prime minister: the charm and wit went missing, replaced by woodenness and lack of relatability.
Shorten accepted advice to appear “leader-like”, creating a barrier Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who sought to directly connect with voters, was not hampered by. “It is often said of democratic politics,” historian David Runciman has said, “that the question voters ask of any leader is: ‘Do I like this person?’ But it seems more likely that the question at the back of their minds is: ‘Would this person like me?’” Morrison passed and Shorten flunked that test.
Shorten generally failed the “theatre of politics”. His suits often looked too big, making him look small. Television footage of him jogging in oversized athletic clothes during the campaign made him look small. Poor production of Shorten in these ways diminished perceptions of him as an alternative prime minister – a professionalism fail that could have easily been fixed but was not.
Lesson: Leadership unpopularity costs votes. Successful “theatre of politics” matters.
2.Supporting players’ unpopularity
Shorten was weighed down by frontbenchers in the key economic and environment portfolios who fell well short in the performativity stakes too. The camera is not kind to shadow treasurer Chris Bowen. While he developed serious policy chops, partly through sustained study of Paul Keating’s history as a reforming treasurer of historic stature, he also picked up Keating’s hauteur, but without actually being Keating and able to pull it off.
The arrogance of Bowen’s franking credits policy comment that “if people very strongly feel that they don’t want this to happen they are perfectly entitled to vote against us” was a defining misstep of the Shorten opposition. It made the leader’s job that much harder.
Shadow environment minister Mark Butler is another to whom the camera is unkind. He embodied the soft, urban environmentalist persona that is poison in those parts of Australia where Labor needed to pick up seats. An equally knowledgeable but more knockabout environment spokesperson – Tony Burke, for example – would have been the cannier choice in a “climate election” where regional voters had to be persuaded to Labor’s greener policy agenda.
Lesson: Appoint frontbenchers capable of winning public support in their portfolios.
The maths wasn’t wrong but the models on which the two-party-preferred vote is calculated have been blown up by this election, an event foreshadowed by recent polling miscalls in Britain.
Long-time conservative political consultant Lynton Crosby’s presence in the Coalition campaign has been invisible except for the tiny but crucial, and completely overlooked, detail that the Liberals’ polling “was conducted by Michael Brooks, a London-based pollster with Crosby Textor who was brought out from the United Kingdom for the campaign”.
The Coalition had better polling. Labor and everyone else were relying on faulty polling that misallocated preferences and uniformly predicted a Labor win – false comfort to Labor, which stayed a flawed course instead of making necessary changes to avoid defeat.
Lesson: Focus on the primary vote, the polling figure least vulnerable to modelling assumptions.
4.Media hostile to Labor
The Murdoch media have created an atmospheric so pervasively hostile to Labor that it has become normalised. It contributed significantly to Shorten’s unpopularity and Labor’s loss. Its impact is only going to get worse with Australia’s nakedly partisan Fox News-equivalent, “Sky After Dark”, extending from pay-TV to free-to-air channels in regional areas.
Lesson: Have brilliant ads in a sharply focused campaign that doesn’t fail to hit your opponents’ weaknesses.
7.Massive advertising spending gap
Along with the hostile media environment created by the Murdoch press, the unprecedented spending gap between the Labor and anti-Labor sides of politics and its role in the Coalition win has passed largely unremarked.
The previous election was bought by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull with a $1.7 million personal donation that boosted Coalition election advertising in the campaign’s crucial last fortnight. That now looks like small beer next to the 2019 election’s anti-Labor advertising spending (approximately $80 million when one adds the Coalition’s $20 million spend to the Clive Palmer-United Australia Party spend of $60 million-plus). This is four times the size of Labor’s $20 million ad budget – a huge disparity.
Lesson: Australia already needed campaign finance laws to stop the purchasing of elections. It needs them even more urgently now.
8.Large policy target
Misleading polling showing it was persistently ahead gave Labor false comfort pursuing a “big” policy agenda – that is, making policy offerings normally done from government rather than opposition. If everything else goes right in an election, and with a popular leader and effective key supporting frontbenchers, this may be possible. That was not the case in the 2019 election.
Lesson: When in opposition, don’t go to an election promising tax changes that make some people worse off. Save it for government.
9.Green cannibalisation of the Labor vote
The primary vote of the Labor Party (33.5%) and the Greens (9.9%) adds up to 43.4% – a long way off the 50%-plus required to beat the conservatives. For a climate-action-oriented government to be elected in Australia, Labor and the Greens are going to have to find a better modus vivendi.
They don’t have to like each other; after all, the mutual hatred of the Liberals and Nationals within the Coalition is long-standing and well-known. But like the Liberals and Nationals, though without a formal agreement, Labor and the Greens are going to have to craft a way forward that forestalls indulgent bus tours by Green icons through Queensland coal seats and stops prioritising cannibalisation of the Labor vote over beating conservatives.
Lesson: For climate policy to change in Australia, Labor and the Greens need to strategise constructively, if informally, to get Labor elected to office.
10.Every election is winnable
Paul Keating won an “unwinnable” election in 1993 and pundits spoke of the Keating decade ahead. John Howard beat Keating in a landslide three years later, despite being the third Coalition leader in a single tumultuous parliamentary term.
Morrison won the 2019 election despite internal Coalition leadership turmoil, political scandals and a revolt of the party’s women MPs against the Liberals’ bullying internal culture.
Lesson: Every election is there to be won or lost. Take note of Lessons 1 to 9 to do so.
I recently had cause to look at a large file of material I collected about Mark Latham during 2004. It is full of many of the same columnists who have just campaigned successfully for the return of the Morrison government. They were buzzing with excitement and hubris. News Corps’s Miranda Devine saw an omen in the news that arrived from Paris as the polls opened in Australia:
Jacques Derrida, the father of deconstructionism, died in Paris of pancreatic cancer, bringing to a symbolic end a destructive era of postmodern truth-twisting.
While no one else seemed to draw a bow quite so long, almost everyone could agree that John Howard’s victory was “historic” and that Labor was in “crisis”.
But The Australian’s Janet Albrechtsen’s response to that election brings us closest to the present. Howard’s very lack of a grand vision was precisely what had attracted voters to him, she claimed:
While the Left aches for a top-down vision imposed from above by some Whitlamite, Keatingesque leader, the rest of us prefer the bottom-up Howard version where we get to choose our own vision.
With Scott Morrison, we also have little choice but to choose our own vision if we want one. But Howard, it turned out, had plans if not a vision. He would use the Senate majority voters had sent his way to deal with Australia’s unions once and for all, through WorkChoices. At the 2007 election, Howard lost government as well as his own seat.
Labor supporters despairing of the result of Saturday’s election would do well to recall 2004. It is, to my mind, the closest parallel with what we have just seen. Labor took bold policies to the voters in 2004 and 2019. A Coalition leader managed to persuade enough voters that Labor couldn’t be trusted in economic matters.
Resources industries mattered for both elections, Tasmanian forests in 2004, and Queensland coal in 2019. Labor fumbled each, just as housing – interest rates in 2004, and property values and rents in 2019 – caused Labor grief on each occasion.
Shorten is no Latham, but there were question marks hanging over both leaders that told against their party. Shorten made his mistakes but ran a solid campaign in 2019, gradually hitting his stride.
Latham was no slouch in 2004, either; there has been a conflation of his behaviour after the campaign with that during its course. Writing straight after the election in The Australian, Paul Kelly had many criticisms of both Labor and Latham. But he also thought Latham had campaigned “very well” personally.
The more common comparison of 2019 has been with 1993, John Hewson’s “unlosable election”. There is, of course, something in that and, again, some hope for Labor.
There were reasons to imagine after the 1993 election that Labor was in for the long haul – that it would be the modern equivalent of the post-war Coalition with its 23-year run. The Liberals continued with a broken Hewson, had a brief and disastrous experiment with Alexander Downer, and then settled on a failed leader from the previous decade, Howard.
Few saw the Coalition’s future as bright after Keating’s win. But Labor fumbled its post-1993 election budget and, for all of Keating’s bravado in the house and all of his “big picture” hobnobbing with world leaders such as Clinton and Suharto outside it, the foundations of Labor rule were crumbling.
Is Labor’s “crisis”, if it is a crisis, worse than that faced by the Coalition in 1993 and Labor in 2004? If the ultimate test is electoral success, only the next election will allow us to answer that question.
But there are some alarming indicators. Labor seems to have lost votes to the far right in Queensland and preferences then flowed helpfully to the Coalition. Morrison was able to have his cake – getting the Liberals to put One Nation last south of the Tweed – while eating it north of the Tweed, where he had no sway over LNP preferencing and the Coalition reaped the rewards.
There is an emerging narrative that Adani mattered in key Queensland seats, not so much in its own right but for its wider symbolic significance for the future of coal mining in Queensland and Labor’s commitment to traditional blue-collar jobs.
If so, Labor has a lot of work to do to clarify its policy and messaging, in a state where coal has formed one of the foundations of the economy since the 1960s.
And it needs to do so without damaging its prospects elsewhere by equivocating on commitments to renewable energy and vigorous action on climate change. The old calculation that alienated Greens votes will come back to Labor might still be largely correct, but Labor has never won from opposition when the electorate votes for it only grudgingly.
It was ironic, in view of Labor’s problems in some regions and outer suburbs, that the two front-runners who initially emerged as Labor leadership contenders were members of the Left faction representing neighbouring seats in oh-so-hip inner Sydney. With Tanya Plibersek withdrawing – and another Sydneysider, Chris Bowen, also bowing out – the leadership is now likely to fall to the Left’s Anthony Albanese. Queenslander Jim Chalmers, from the Right, is considering whether to run.
The terms in which the post-election debate about Labor’s future has been carried on could have occurred after any election defeat in the last 50 years. But the foundational issue for Labor is not where it places itself on the political spectrum, or even whether it can win back voters in the regions, but whether it has any capacity to grapple with the inequalities and frailties that lax, opportunistic and unsustainable policy – much of it dating back to the Howard era – has embedded.
At the 2019 election, Labor proposed chasing revenue by winding back tax concessions to some categories of shareholder, property investor and superannuant. This approach was rejected at the polls. But economic growth and productivity seem unlikely to provide an alternative pathway for a future Labor government, unless there is a miraculous turn-around in the global economy.
No prospective Labor leader should be taken seriously unless he – and it seems it will indeed be a “he” – is at least able to articulate this dilemma.
The resounding victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) coalition in India’s federal election represents a key marker in the modern history of India. It was the most extensive and probably most expensive election campaign in the country’s history, with 900 million voters casting their votes in one million polling stations over 38 days. Some 83 million Indians were first-time voters, with 15 million of them aged 18 and 19.
The great Indian festival of democracy – as the elections are often called – is seen as the most challenging exercise in making all Indians feel they have a say in the running of the government.
And the return of Narendra Modi as prime minister is both an opportunity and challenge for the country.
The 2019 parliamentary elections were the most “presidential” since the era of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi four decades ago, with a focus more on the personality of one leader (and his track record) than the candidates standing for office and their respective parties.
I travelled across India to the hustings in as many as 50 parliamentary constituencies and witnessed firsthand the “Modi phenomenon.” In constituency after constituency, BJP candidates evoked Modi’s name and displayed his image every opportunity they could.
Modi’s larger-than-life presence
Modi was projected as the only leader who would revive the great Indian civilization and save the country from the powerful elites and corrupt politicians who made up what the BJP deemed the “anti-national” opposition.
At times in the campaign, his personality assumed almost mythological proportions. The defining image was of the Indian leader shedding his regal robes and retreating to a bare cave in the Himalayas, close to one of the important centres of Hindu pilgrimage, where he meditated in a monastic saffron shawl. This reinforced his popular image as a puritanical and incorruptible leader whose first choice in life was to be a monk.
In contrast to this imagery, the opposition parties ran lazy, tired campaigns that failed to have much impact.
The Congress Party, the country’s once-dominant political party, did not improve much on its devastating results from the 2014 election. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the sister of Congress President Rahul Gandhi, tried hard to mobilise voters with rousing speeches and campaign events, but these were just brief moments in the longest campaign in Indian electoral history.
The Congress Party’s traditional hubris showed little signs of abating as it abandoned any chance of building potentially winning coalitions that could have countered the Modi juggernaut.
The only real resistance to the BJP-led coalition came from India’s largest state of Uttar Pradesh, where two strong regional parties suspended their traditional rivalry to establish an alliance, but even that coalition did not live up to its initial promise.
The Modi campaign succeeded not just in appealing to nostalgia for India’s greatness or in the ultra-nationalism that peaked after airstrikes against what India viewed as terrorist camps in Pakistan in February. It was actual delivery on the ground.
The social welfare schemes built around providing lavatories, cooking gas and direct cash transfers to India’s poorest have had tremendous impact across the country. Surprisingly, even the more woolly-headed schemes of the Modi government, such as his chaotic demonetisation decision in 2016 and a poorly implemented introduction of GST, were perceived by many voters as policies that were well-intentioned, but badly executed by the toxic bureaucracy seeking to undermine Modi.
In part due to these social welfare schemes, the BJP expanded its presence in states where it has traditionally had little previous success, including Bengal, Odisha and many parts of southern India.
What Modi’s win means for India
So, what can Indians expect from a BJP-led government for the next five years? Based on what we have seen since 2014, the government will be centralised and driven primarily from Modi’s office. Fortunately, the messiness of Indian democracy and the strengths of the constitution will prevent the country from leaning towards authoritarianism, so that should not be a concern.
The previous Modi government has shown it was possible to take a pragmatic approach to social and economic policies.
There are many key challenges that will require a fine balancing act. These include a further liberalising of the economy, with the structural changes needed to make it easier to do business in India and attract more foreign investment. Creating jobs and skills training for the vast numbers of young Indians remains a formidable challenge, as does India’s struggling agrarian sector, which has reached a crisis point.
It remains to be seen if the activism of the BJP’s rank-and-file members, as well as the party’s supporters in the Hindu nationalist movement, can be managed without compromising on key policies that India needs for social cohesion and to continue growing the economy. It will also fall to Modi to reassure ethnic and religious minorities – many of whom have fallen victim to Hindu mob attacks – that they are part of an inclusive vision for the country.
In terms of foreign policy, Modi has demonstrated deftness in New Delhi’s relations with powers like China and the US, as well as other countries in the region. There are sure to be new challenges with Pakistan, in particular, as well as an increasingly belligerent China, but Modi has already shown he has a unique ability to build a personal rapport with other leaders.
Labor has taken a major gamble by appointing Anthony Albanese unopposed as party leader. His speedy elevation came because he was not tarred with the Bill Shorten-Chris Bowen brush that failed so spectacularly on May 18. So a cross-factional deal for a unity ticket held sway.
“Albo” has carefully crafted his image as a knockabout but likeable scallywag. He mixes easily with ordinary folks, “does” the local pubs and community centres, volunteers his services as an occasional DJ. He is a rugby league fanatic who regularly marches in the Sydney Mardi Gras and has a beer named in his honour. He’s an impish politician with a nose for a pithy or humorous riposte; an iconoclastic puncturer of hyperbole and bunkum (remember his throwaway dismissal of the “convoy of no consequence” when a pitiful truck convoy descended on Canberra).
Albanese was also Labor’s smartest parliamentary tactician as the Leader of the House in the Gillard government. He sees himself as a “commonsense guy” who is prepared to “stand up for what [he] thinks is commonsense propositions”.
He also has the distinction of remaining loyal to both former Labor PMs Kevin Rudd and then Julia Gillard, and has earned respect for this among his colleagues, unlike Shorten.
Of more significance, he is from the left wing of the party, which could be a political millstone around his neck as leader.
He regards high office not simply as a vocation but as a messianic obligation. Given his advocacy of radical policies in his recent past, including death duties and redistributive taxes, his promotion to the leadership provides him with ample opportunities to shape the party’s policy agendas. He is, in reality, only the second left-wing leader of the ALP after the troubled H.V. “Doc” Evatt in the 1950s (Julia Gillard was nominally from the left, but more conservative than most of her party colleagues).
Similarly, his political opponents have described him as “too left wing” to become prime minister. And some of his Labor colleagues from Victoria have argued that he is “too old and tired” to win an election.
In the Labor Party, the only real difference between the right and left factions is that the right don’t believe in anything much except that power is an end in itself. By contrast, the left are ideological, believe in social engineering and consider power as a means to pursue transformational agendas.
So, coming from the left may be Albanese’s Achilles’ heel, a vulnerability to his leadership. He has the opportunity in the immediate term to defuse many issues that bedevilled Labor over the past parliamentary term. These include: passing the Coalition’s full income tax cuts; agreeing to a bipartisan emissions target; working with the government on a joint policy towards Indigenous Australians; advocating a moratorium on further changes to superannuation; abolishing the symbolic medevac policy that feigns assistance to offshore detainees; and helping resolve some glaring disparities in welfare benefits.
But such concessions to the government would likely infuriate Labor’s tribal adversarial spear-throwers and its throng of left-Labor lawyers. An initial consensual approach, however, may make sections of the right-wing media look more closely at Albanese’s qualities as leader. Others might argue that “leopards cannot change their spots” and that Albanese will be confrontational and fight for redistributive agendas – making him a prime target for conservative media attacks that he remains a dangerous leftie.
Albanese now has two important imperatives – unify the party behind a refreshed policy agenda, and increase the party’s appeal to the community in order to rebuild the vote. Neither of these tasks is particularly easy, especially as Labor is likely to engage in a bout of recrimination after its recent disappointing electoral tilt.
He also has to work out tactically how to deal with the Morrison government basking in the afterglow of victory – so far, he has promised not to be an opposition leader like Tony Abbott, who opted for outright confrontational tactics.
Albanese’s immediate problems are to construct a shadow ministry on talent, not seniority or factional standing, with the right mix of skills to hold the government to account. He needs to match up his best performers against the high-profile or difficult portfolios (treasury, Indigenous affairs, water, NDIS) and the weaker government ministers (Stuart Robert, Sussan Ley, Ken Wyatt, Bridget McKenzie, Michaelia Cash and Greg Hunt). He will have to work out whether to give Shorten a significant shadow portfolio or find something else for him to do.
There are many in Labor’s caucus who demand more responsibility, especially women of ambition including Kristina Keneally, Katy Gallagher, Linda Burney, Jenny McAllister, Clare O’Neil, Ged Kearney, Terri Butler and Kimberley Kitching, as well as the likes of Jim Chalmers, Ed Husic, Stephen Jones, Murray Watt, Nick Champion and Andrew Leigh. Many of Labor’s previous front bench under Shorten failed to cut through and should be demoted.
Albanese’s Labor must address a series of debilitating and contentious policy areas – most of which should be either settled or defused. It needs to clarify where it stands on the big versus smaller government debate and whether increased federal involvement in multitudes of policy areas is prudent and responsible.
It ought to focus on the economy and increased productivity, while being less opportunistic on taxation proposals. For all Australians, Labor ought to allow a coherent set of policies on climate change and emissions targets. It could then consolidate effective environmental policies, rather than engaging in the chopping and changing that has characterised this sector (unlike our nearest neighbours in New Zealand). Labor has to define its position in relation to mining and, in particular, the coal industry. There is also scope to advance Indigenous well-being and some form of constitutional recognition.
Some mainstream media have speculated that the deputy leader, Richard Marles from the Victorian right, will be able to moderate any leftward drift under Albanese. This is possible, but the right faction is divided and fractious.
Albanese’s leftism represents a potential debility in the opposition’s platform, which a conservative government with wind in its sails might easily exploit.
The battle for the hearts and minds of Australians is more likely to be fought over practical and pragmatic policies than any ideological lurch to either the left by Labor or to the right by the government.
For some time now, Australian voters have rattled the cage of the political establishment. Frustrated with prime ministerial “coups”, political scandals and policy inertia, growing numbers have turned away from the major parties.
Does this mean minor parties and independent candidates will have a significant impact on the coming federal election?
Anti-major party sentiment doesn’t usually disrupt the numbers in parliament by much. Only five of 150 seats weren’t won by the major parties at the 2016 federal election, despite a national minor party/independent vote of over 23%. But a nationwide minor party Senate vote of over 35% in 2016 resulted in a record 20 crossbenchers – helped by a lower quota bar at a double dissolution election.
Familiar groups and faces are well placed to capitalise on this sentiment during the current election campaign.
Despite internal instability rocking its New South Wales branch, the Greens will hope to capitalise on growing progressive support (in Victoria especially) and an expected anti-Coalition swing to secure Senate influence.
Yet with recent Senate voting rule changes being tested for the first time at a normal half-Senate election, the Greens may in fact struggle to retain, let alone build on, their current nine Senate spots. Final Senate seats in most states will be fought over by a slew of (mainly right-wing) minor parties.
Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party (UAP), Pauline Hanson’s One Nation (PHON), and – unlikely as it seems – Fraser Anning’s new Conservative National Party will chase the “protest vote” in all states and (apart from PHON) territories.
But intense competition for the conservative vote means they and other minor parties stand only an outside chance of winning lower house seats. One exception is Bob Katter likely holding Kennedy in north Queensland for his eponymous Australian Party.
Still, an expected high minor party vote will keep the major parties – and the media – focused on preferencing arrangements throughout the campaign. These preferences will likely play a key role in electing minor party candidates to the Senate, potentially returning familiar faces like One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts from Queensland.
Deference to preferences
Recent opinion poll results have unexpectedly placed Palmer’s party ahead of the field of minor parties on the right. Months of saturation advertising, it seems, have imprinted the billionaire’s messaging on voters’ minds. Yet this sudden poll prominence, like Palmer’s billboard pledge to “make Australia great”, is largely illusory.
Nevertheless, both major parties have responded to this seeming upsurge in UAP support. The Coalition has hurriedly concluded a preferencing arrangement that sees Palmer and Prime Minister Scott Morrison somewhat “reconciled”. The deal might deliver much-needed preferences to Coalition MPs in marginal seats, particularly in Queensland. It also increases the chances of Palmer candidates – and the man himself – winning a Senate seat.
But these are big “maybes”. Minor party voters are renowned for following their own preference choices. In 2013, voters’ preferences from Palmer’s United Party candidates split only 54% the Coalition’s way.
Clearly stung by the attention being shown to Palmer, Hanson has announced PHON will preference Labor last in some key marginal seats held by Liberal incumbents. That includes Peter Dutton, whose seat of Dickson is under siege. In 2016, PHON took a different approach when it preferenced against sitting MPs, costing the Coalition its hold on Queensland seats like Herbert and Longman.
As part of the same deal, PHON will exchange preferences with the Nationals – whose leader Michael McCormack claimed “it just made sense” – lifting the Nationals’ hopes in marginal and at-risk regional seats.
Labor has also sealed a deal to boost its chances in marginal Victorian seats, concluding an arrangement with Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party. This will see Labor how-to-vote cards in tightly contested seats like Dunkley and Corangamite suggest second preferences go to Hinch’s Senate candidates ahead of the Greens (repeating Labor’s approach at the 2016 election).
But doing preference deals with minor parties carries reputational risks, as former Western Australia Premier Colin Barnett has warned. As has often been the case with personality-driven outfits, choosing suitable or qualified candidates easily brings minor parties undone.
Anning’s party has already stumbled badly. A pair of candidates in Victoria and the ACT has been called into question, and a party supporter allegedly assaulted journalists in Sydney.
Hanson’s party, no stranger to this pitfall, is still hosing down the controversy of the Al Jazeera taped conversations with party insiders, which has likely cost the party some support. Freshly released video footage has now forced Queensland Senate candidate, Steve Dickson, to resign in disgrace, in another blow to the often shambolic party’s standing.
Palmer’s candidates are similarly coming under scrutiny with doubts raised over citizenship qualifications, putting legitimate doubts into voters’ minds just as pre-polling has commenced.
Familiarity is key for independents
The best chances for independents are in lower house seats, yet there’s been only a dozen elected to parliament in the last several decades. Those who’ve broken through in election campaigns, like Kerryn Phelps at last year’s Wentworth byelection, typically benefit when there’s some controversy or ill-feeling towards an incumbent or their party.
But in the absence of full-on media glare of a high-profile by-election contest, Phelps might struggle to hold her seat – assuming the angst of local voters over Malcolm Turnbull’s deposing has dissipated.
Personal profile and high media interest puts Zali Steggall in with a chance to unseat Tony Abbott in Warringah. Likewise, a well-organised local campaign structure such as “Voices for Indi” behind Cathy McGowan’s hopeful successor, Helen Haines, can make the difference – though transition of support from one independent to another isn’t assured.
Newcomers on the ballot paper generally find the odds against them. Candidates with an established record and voter recognition, such as Andrew Wilkie in Tasmania’s Clark (like the Greens’ Adam Bandt in Melbourne and Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie in South Australia’s Mayo), enjoy an easier path to reelection.
Similarly, Rob Oakeshott is given a good chance of winning the New South Wales seat of Cowper from retiring Nationals MP, Luke Hartsuyker. He carries strong name recognition from his time as Independent MP for the neighbouring seat of Lyne.
But recognition alone mightn’t be enough for Julia Banks, the former Liberal MP for Chisholm in Victoria who is now challenging in Greg Hunt’s seat of Flinders. Her decision to preference Labor’s candidate above Hunt might turn away potential support from Liberal-leaning voters, yet could put the seat within Labor’s grasp.
The chances of an “independent tide” sweeping several seats this election is unlikely, in part due to the ability of major parties to drown out the competition. And counter to long speculation about the “march of the minors”, there could in fact be a reduced crossbench in both the lower house and Senate.
But voter dissatisfaction with the major parties persists, and minor party preferences are likely to play a critical role in many seats.
The prominence of minor parties will maintain an air of unpredictability for the remainder of the campaign, clouding an election outcome many saw not long ago as a foregone conclusion.